Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sea, sun, sand and placards

The next morning we walked through the Old Town passing through the imposing Plaza de la Constitution. It is quite unusual in that all its balconies are numbered from when the square was used as a bullring and balconies were rented out to spectators. They have since been converted to apartments but the numbers remain as a colourful link to the past.

We arrived at our destination in the Old Port, the Naval Museum. San Sebastián was for centuries little more than a fishing village, but by 1174 it was granted self-governing status by the kingdom of Navarra for whom the bay was the principal outlet to the sea. Whale and cod fishing were the main occupations along with the export of Castilian products to European ports and then to the Americas. Years of knockabout trans-European conflicts included the razing of the city by Anglo-Portuguese forces during the Peninsular War.

We had fairly high expectations of the museum, which is housed in a mid eighteenth century consulate. The museum housed two floors of paintings showing the Basque sea heritage but that was it, no boats, no astrolabes and compasses, just the paintings.

As we were walking along the quay, a boat was just about to leave on a cruise of the bay so we decided to join it, partly to get some relief from the heat. It was enjoyable looking at the sites from the water and watching the teenagers on an end-of-school-year trip imagining they were on the Titanic.

After a pintxos lunch with lovely concoctions of Serrano ham, sausage, bright green padron peppers, shrimp, crab and eggs we headed to the beach to join the throngs on the sand. We followed in the footsteps of 19th-century Spanish royalty who came here to escape the searing heat of the southern mesas (tableland). We were fortunate in visiting at low tide, which left plenty of room for everyone on the beach. At high tide we would have been crammed into a narrow strip of sand. We had our first swim in the Bay of Biscay, getting battered around a bit in the sea.

Back in the hotel we heard signs of a demonstration and sure enough the street was a sea of Basque flags as people carried signs in favour of Spain becoming a republic. At the head of the march were likenesses of the royal family, King Juan Carlos in military uniform limping along on his cane; his son King Felipe, who just became king today, also in military uniform; Queen Sophia looking like a pantomime dame and the new Queen Letizia and the two children looking silly but not too bad. These challenges to the unpopular monarchy were held all over Spain today. Not an auspicious start to King Felipe's reign

In the evening we had dinner at a restaurant that was showing the England vs Uruguay soccer game. We arrived at the beginning of the game and managed to string out the whole meal to the end of the meal and the unfortunate end for England.

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